A comment on Lord Green’s article in Conservative Home on 20 November 2017 about the relevance of an EEA style arrangement for post-Brexit immigration from the EU made no attempt to address the argument. Instead, it contained the following abusive content:
“It is perfectly fine and welcome to have rigorous debate about this topic, but why is Conservative Home demeaning itself by allowing Migration Watch and Andrew Green to continue to peddle their distortions and lies on immigration and its impacts on the UK?
For anyone who might be unaware, Migration Watch have been censured and corrected many times for their false claims, deliberate distortions, inaccurate and unjustified assumptions and calculations by various independent bodies, fact checkers and the PCC over numerous years.
Anyone can check this out for themselves thanks to the internet, but here are just two of their recent misdemeanors.
– Deliberately distorting the research of University College London, Infacts – Link
-Lying about the tax paid by Eastern European workers in the UK, Press Complaints Committee – Link
If Con Home is going to invite debate about Immigration, at least let it be a robust, healthy and above all accurate one from reputable, respected sources.”
In the first case, Migration Watch UK had carried out an assessment of the fiscal impact of immigrants in the UK in 2014/15 to update research carried out by the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration at University College, London (CReAM) that had covered the years 1995-2011. There was a real matter of methodological difference between ourselves and CReAM over the extent of attribution of business taxes to migrant groups, and particularly to recent arrivals among them. For this reason, in our work published in 2016, we fully reported results on both our preferred basis and CReAM’s preferred basis, and explained the reasons for our preference. To give CReAM their due, in the published version of their own paper in 2014 they had taken on board comments we and others had made about this issue on their working paper and added a number of variant scenarios to their results, including one on the basis we prefer. The issue is one of entirely legitimate academic debate, and it should be quite uncontroversial for those on either side to headline their preferred methodology, especially when – as we did – so clearly explaining our reasoning, fully acknowledging the CReAM position, and fully reporting the result of adopting their position in the alternative. It is simply absurd to claim that this contribution to the research base in any way distorts any else’s research, let alone deliberately.
Our headline conclusions from this research have been robust to any challenge. The first of these, that on either basis the migrant population from the A10 countries was in fiscal deficit in 2014/15, has not been challenged by anyone, and is indeed in line with a deteriorating fiscal contribution for this group that CReAM had themselves observed for earlier years. Secondly, our overall finding that the whole migrant population was in fiscal deficit in 2014/15 despite much more favourable demographics than the UK-born population was similarly in line with CReAM’s findings of a fiscal deficit from the immigrant population in every one of the years they examined from 1995-2011.
The second case, in which the commenter goes even further and accuses us of lying, was a matter brought to the Press Complaints Commission by Jonathan Portes about newspaper reports in 2014 that had adopted a phrase in a Migration Watch UK press release to the effect that 150,000 Eastern Europeans might be paying no net direct taxes. The complainant did not challenge the analysis in the paper or its conclusions that there might be considerable numbers of Eastern European workers paying little or no net taxes. At the time, the lack of any official data on tax payments meant that any such analysis could only give tentative or approximate results and our paper was clear about this. A figure of around 150,000 could be inferred from the analysis in the paper and was given in the press release as an indication of the numbers that might be involved. The PCC upheld the complaint on the basis that the figure of 150,000 did not appear in the Migration Watch paper itself and on that basis that the reports were inaccurate. There was no suggestion by the PCC of any intent to deceive or of anything that could be construed as lying. As a subsidiary issue, the PCC found that the use of the term ‘net tax’ was misleading as it did not take into account indirect taxes, and netted off only personal taxes against tax credits, child benefit and housing benefit without giving any credit for indirect taxes such as VAT.
With hindsight, both of the PCC findings have a certain irony. On the finding about the use of the phrase ‘net tax’, in early 2016, during the referendum campaign, HMRC published figures for what they called the ‘net fiscal contribution’ of EEA migrants. These netted off personal taxes only (as we had) but against only tax credits and child benefit. In terms of a net position this must have been even more misleading because although HMRC omitted (as we did) indirect taxes on the credit side, they omitted housing benefit on the debit side. Had HMRC described such a balance as a net fiscal contribution in 2014, our phrase ‘net tax’ would have been quite in line with their official pronouncement and not realistically susceptible to challenge. On the press release figure of 150,000 Eastern Europeans unlikely to have been paying more than £1 a week in net taxes, in 2016 HMRC published information for the first time on personal taxes paid and HMRC benefits claimed by EEA nationals. HMRC’s own analysis of actual tax records showed that of EEA nationals with an income tax record in 2014/15 nearly 1.3 million (44% of EEA nationals with an income tax record) paid no income tax at all. While the figures are not directly comparable, as they include migrants from both Western and Eastern Europe, it is ironic that the figure of 150,000 now appears likely to have been a considerable underestimate at best. On neither issue in this case can Migration Watch UK possibly be accused of lying.